Local firefighters fought a Diamond Ridge house fire and a McNeil Canyon area wildfire on Thursday. In an early morning fire, Kachemak Emergency Service firefighters could not save the home of Alan Parks on Nearly Level Avenue at the bottom of Rucksack Drive near Diamond Ridge Road. Parks, a Homer fisherman, photographer and active Kachemak Nordic Ski Club volunteer, escaped the fire. The home was fully engulfed in flames when the first fire trucks arrived, said KES Chief Bob Cicciarella.
In a second fire on Thursday afternoon, KES firefighters had just finished getting hoses rolled up and tankers refilled at the McNeil Canyon Fire Station when a KES volunteer firefighter reported a wildfire down the street from the fire hall on Ashwood Avenue and Sandra Street near Mile 12 East End Road at McNeil Canyon. KES and Alaska Division of Forestry firefighters responded, including with helicopters and water buckets and a fire retardant tanker plane. Winds gusting to 25 mph whipped up the fire, but crews stopped the fire at 8.3 acres and had it fully contained by about 4 a.m. Friday.
The wildfire at one point trapped a woman in her Big Dipper Ranch Road home north of Ashwood Avenue. Firefighters had told area residents to evacuate, but the woman said she couldn’t leave because fire and smoke blocked her exit. Cicciarella said firefighters told her to shelter in place — stay inside the protection of her home. KES sent a fire engine to the woman’s home.
“Luckily the engine got there fairly quickly and established a wet line,” Cicciarella said. “When the engine got there, it had been coming up the grass to the house.”
Other homes near the wildland fire also were threatened, but firefighters and homeowners saved those homes.
Diamond Ridge house fire
The Parks house fire was called in at about 3:45 a.m. Thursday. Parks was sleeping when he woke up to heavy smoke and fire in his home, Cicciarella said.
“He’s very lucky he got out,” he said.
Parks was the only one home at the time. In a phone call to Parks on Friday, his son said Parks was not available to talk about the fire. The $300,000 home was a total loss.
About 20 KES firefighters with two engines and two tankers responded, along with mutual aid of one tanker from the Homer Volunteer Fire Department and one tanker from Anchor Point Emergency Services as well as crew from both departments. Firefighters used almost 50,000 gallons to stop the fire. At one point a column of smoke rose 150 feet over the rural neighborhood. One man on the uphill end of Rucksack Drive about a half mile away said he had ash from insulation falling in his yard.
Firefighters kept the house fire from spreading into nearby timber. Parks had a mowed lawn with good defensible space as well as a small pond that helped keep the fire from spreading. A nearby chicken coop with chickens survived the fire. Firefighters also kept the fire from spreading to a home and lodge to the east.
“It was a real hot fire and a tough fire to fight,” Cicciarella said.
Parks had been painting in the house earlier that day, Cicciarella said, but he didn’t know if that caused the fire. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, he said.
Sandra Street wildfire
The Sandra Street was called in about 4 p.m. on Thursday. James Holliwell, the volunteer firefighter who called it, in lives on Greenwood Road west of Sandra Street and saw the column of smoke. He was visiting a friend, Chris Gordon, at Gordon’s house off Big Dipper Ranch Road north of the fire area.
“When we saw the smoke, we called it in,” Gordon.
Cicciarella said he had returned to the station from the Parks house fire and was just about ready to leave when the call went out for the Sandra Street fire.
“I was just about to say, ‘I’m exhausted and I’m going home’ when the page came out for the fire on Sandra Street,” Cicciarella said.
The fire started near Homer Electric Association electrical equipment. HEA is cooperating with Alaska Division of Forestry investigators to determine the cause of the fire, said HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher.
“Any time there’s anything like this where there could be a possibility of fire being related to HEA facilities, our goal is to work as closely as we can with Forestry,” Gallagher said.
The fire threatened the Bradley Lake transmission line passing through the area about a quarter-mile north of the fire, Gallagher said, but did not harm the line.
Gordon said that within a half hour the fire had travelled about 300 yards toward his house. Gordon and Holliwell started wetting down the lawn, house and a strand of spruce trees about 30 feet from the house. Gordon is a former wildland firefighter now working for Bullet Proof Nets. He happened to have the day off.
“I was barely keeping it under control with the area around the house,” he said. “It was a little touch and go for a few minutes. I wasn’t sure we were going to save the house.”
Gordon called the Division of Forestry and they arrived with a tanker crew pretty quickly. A helicopter with bucket dropped water on the area. A bulldozer showed up to cut a fire break.
“That kind of pinned it in,” Gordon said. “I fought fire a long time. They did great. State Forestry did a great job.”
Pioneer Peak hotshot crews also responded to the fire. KES provided water hauls. The two fires completely drained the McNeil Canyon Fire Stations 30,000-gallon tank and had to be refilled by water haulers.
Helitack aircraft — helicopters hauling water buckets — and fire retardant tanker planes also fought the fire. Cicciarella said a tanker plane dropped a load of retardant on the Big Dipper Ranch Road home threatened by the fire. Dry grass contributed to the fire, with flames 3 feet high in the grass. The fire also got into trees.
“The rapid movement of that fire — it was really good we got there fast. It could have turned into another Funny River fire,” Cicciarella said. “This one was probably the closest to exploding. What a year. What a day.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.